244. Manfred Mann – Mighty Quinn (1968).

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Valentine’s Day, 1967, and Northampton, the county town of Northamptonshire, is designated as a New town. Prime Minister Harold Wilson hoped it would double in size and population by the year 1980. Ten days later, the scientific world was staggered by the announcement that the year before, astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish at the University of Cambridge had discovered a pulsar for the first time. Two days after that, fire broke out at Shrewsbury Mental Hospital, killing 21 patients.

Manfred Mann were at number 1 that fortnight, for the third and final time, with their best chart-topper, Mighty Quinn. The group’s line-up had changed since Pretty Flamingo in 1966 – Paul Jones had been keen to go solo for some time, and was finally replaced that July with former Band of Angels member and Jones lookalike Mike d’Abo. Bassist Jack Bruce had only been with the band briefly before leaving to form influential rock trio Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. His replacement was Klaus Voorman, who was close friends with the Beatles from their Hamburg days, and designer of the memorable sleeve of Revolver.

Around this time they left EMI to sign with Fontana Records, and their cover of Bob Dylan’s Just like a Woman made the top ten. As they moved further away from their jazz and R’n’B roots with new album As Is, their singles continued to do very well, with Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr James and Ha Ha Said the Clown both reaching the top five. The latter was their first release of 1967, but despite the early psychedelia of Pretty Flamingo, the year before, they failed to capitalise on the burgeoning hippy movement as they spent much of the time working on their soundtrack album to British film Up the Junction and Mighty Garvey, which turned out to be their final album.

Among the material was Mighty Quinn, another Bob Dylan cover. Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) was originally a ragged folk-rock number recorded during the sessions with the Band that became known as The Basement Tapes – despite never making it to that album. It would be three years before a version by the song’s author would be released. However Manfred Mann got hold of the song that December, and correctly saw hit potential in the bizarre tale of Quinn the Eskimo, and decided to add suitably psychedelic colour to the bare bones Dylan presented.

Plenty of Dylan’s songs were lyrically obscure in this period, but this throwaway contained some of his most impenetrable words. It is believed to have been inspired by actor Anthony Quinn’s role as an eskimo in 1960 drama The Savage Innocents. Dylan has dismissed it as nothing more than a nursery rhyme, and there’s certainly a flavour of Yellow Submarine in there. Such was Dylan’s power back then, songs he tossed to one side could be made into number 1 singles by the right groups.

It’s fair to say the lyrics don’t really mean anything, and it would be tricky to create a story from them, but we can say that Quinn is some kind of saviour figure – ‘Everybody’s in despair, every girl and boy/But when Quinn the eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna jump for joy’. The final verse suggests the influence of drugs, as ‘Nobody can get no sleep, there’s someone on everyone’s toes/But when Quinn the eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna wanna doze’. Is Quinn a drug dealer? Hard to say, but one thing I do know is my favourite line is ‘But jumping queues and making haste/Just ain’t my cup of meat’. The idea of Dylan sitting down for a nice cup of roast chicken really tickles me.

Analyse the lyrics all you like, but the reason Mighty Quinn was a number 1 was the killer chorus. It’s a real earworm, and Voorman’s rendtion of the main hook on a flute adds emphasis and a kooky charm. The stuttering drums from drummer Mike Hugg are also very effective. It’s very much a product of its time, but this psychedelic bubblegum pop can’t help raise a smile.

The video above features the band performing on the steps of a large country house, deliberately crap dancing and some nice far-out camera work.

Despite Mighty Quinn begin a resounding success on these shores and in the US, some members of Manfred Mann were growing increasingly disillusioned with how far they had strayed from their roots. D’Abo probably wasn’t among them, as he wrote Handbags and Gladrags for Chris Farlowe and co-wrote Build Me Up Buttercup for the Foundations that same year. After two more top ten singles in 1968 (My Name Is Jack and Fox on the Run) and one in 1969 (Ragamuffin Man), Manfred Mann split up.

Manfred Mann and Hugg were writing advertising jingles together already, and when their band split they formed experimental jazz rockers Manfred Mann Chapter Three as a reaction to the pop they had been churning out. They split in 1971, and Mann formed a new group under his name, which turned into Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, best known these days for their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light, a top ten hit in 1977. They also released an inferior version of Mighty Quinn, so Mann must have been rather fond of that last number 1.

Guitarist Tom McGuinness formed McGuinness Flint with Hughie Flint, who had a Christmas number two in 1970 with When I’m Dead and Gone. Voorman was rumoured to be McCartney’s replacement on bass in a post-Beatles group. Although it never happened, he did work with Lennon, Harrison and Starr separately, most notably becoming a member of the Plastic Ono Band. He had a cameo in the ill-received live-action Popeye in 1980, and became the producer of German band Trio, who had a hit over here with Da Da Da in 1982.

Manfred Mann briefly reformed in 1983 to celebrate the Marquee Club’s 25th anniversary. Minus Mann, who had set to work with his Earth Band again, they got together again in 1991 for McGuinness’s 50th, and decided to carry on as the Manfreds. Featuring both vocalists, this group continue to this day.

Due to the sheer volume of great acts in the 60s, Manfred Mann are rarely mentioned as up there with the legends, but nonetheless they were an interesting, unique act. Too jazzy to stay a pop group, too pop to be true to their R’n’B roots, they perhaps deserve further investigation.

Written by: Bob Dylan

Producer: Mike Hurst

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 February)

Births:

Comic-book writer Warren Ellis – 16 February 

Deaths

Actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit – 17 February
Director Anthony Asquith – 20 February 

214. Manfred Mann – Pretty Flamingo (1966)

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On 6 May, Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment – Brady for the murders of children John Kilbride and Lesley Ann Downey, and teenager Edward Evans between November 1963 and October 1965. Hindley was sentenced for the deaths of Downey and Evans. Upon passing the sentences, the judge rightly described the couple as ‘two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity’. They remain prime examples of the human race at its worst.

Also in the news that month… Everton defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. It was a spectacular win, as Everton were losing 2-0 until the final 16 minutes of the match. The National Union of Seamen called a strike on 14 May, which lasted until 16 July.

Number 1 in the singles chart for three weeks at the time were Manfred Mann, with their second of three chart-toppers, Pretty Flamingo. Since their previous number 1, Do Wah Diddy Diddy in August 1964, they were regularly releasing hit pop singles, including Sha La La and Come Tomorrow, alongside albums of more jazz and R’n’B-influenced material. In September 1965 their cover of Bob Dylan’s If You Gotta Go, Go Now was released, climbing all the way to number two. Around this time their guitarist Mike Vickers decided to leave the group to become a conductor. He had big ambitions to become an orchestra conductor, and did exactly that when the Beatles premiered All You Need is Love in June 1967 for the TV special Our World. Bassist Tom McGuinness moved to guitar duties, and their new bassist was Jack Bruce, formerly of the Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, who later helped form Cream. Their next single, Pretty Flamingo, was written by Mark Barkan, a US songwriter who was later behind the music of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and wrote for the Monkees.

With its hazy jangle and dreamy, colourful lyrics of a girl whose hair ‘glows like the sun’ and eyes that ‘light the skies’ (what’s that got to do with flamingos anyway?), Pretty Flamingo came along at the right time. Hippy culture and psychedelia was on its way, so in a sense Manfred Mann were ahead of the curve. Despite this it’s a fairly sparse recording, and rather rough too. The most noteworthy elements are McGuiness’s guitar and a nice bit of flute that comes in half way through. It’s been noted by many that Paul Jones’s bluesy vocal didn’t really fit with Do Wah Diddy Diddy, but I think he suited it better than he does Pretty Flamingo. I can’t hear this track without thinking of Flamingo Land, as it was adapted and used on TV adverts for the theme park in the summer holdiays when I was a child.

In July Paul Jones left Manfred Mann. He had wanted to a year previous but hung on until a replacement could be found. Mike d’Abo took over from him, and Jones embarked on a solo career. Two top ten singles followed, High Time and I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Boy, but Jones then moved into acting, notably guest-starring in ITV’s cop drama The Sweeney in 1975. He founded the Blues Band in 1979, which featured previous Manfred Mann members initially and still tours to this day. Jones also presented children’s TV quiz Beat the Teacher in the mid-80s, and in 1986 his long-running Radio 2 series The Blues Show began, lasting until April 2018.

Written by: Mark Barkan

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 3 (5-25 May)

Births:

Athlete Jonathan Edwards – 10 May 

176. The Honeycombs – Have I the Right? (1964)

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Maverick pioneering producer Joe Meek was responsible for three excellent number 1s over the first half of the 1960s – the gothic melodrama of Johnny Remember Me by John Leyton in 1961 and the futuristic ecstasy of Telstar by the Tornados in 1962. I’d always assumed that his death had happened before the onset of Beatlemania (a band he’d turned down), but here we are in 1964 with his final chart-topper, the primitive punch of Have I the Right? by the Honeycombs.

Since the onset of Merseybeat, Meek continued to do well, producing further hits for the Tornados, Mike Berry and Heinz throughout 1963. In early 1964 he was scheduled to have a new beat group in for audition known as the Sheratons. They were formed in November 1963 by hairdresser Martin Murray, who played rhythm guitar. Years before the White Stripes and even the Velvet Underground, they stood out as their drummer was Honey Lantree, who had been Murray’s salon assistant. Her brother John took up the bass, and his friends Dennis D’Ell and Alan Ward became the singer and lead guitarist respectively. In the audience for one of their gigs in February were the rookie songwriting duo Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley. Meek was impressed with Have I the Right? and as usual, he got the band into his apartment at 304 Holloway Road, Islington to record it as a single.

I thought Have I the Right? was going to be a completely new song for me, but I did recognise the chorus. It doesn’t feature the song title, and that threw me. What also threw me was just how brilliant it sounds in the context of any number 1s I’d heard up to this point. Yet again Meek astounded me, and this time it was due to the lo-fi recording. This is one of the most basic number 1s to date, and is almost punk-like in its simplicity and raw energy. D’Ell is a great singer, I particularly love that guttural growl as he reaches the chorus for the last time. And what a chorus! That amazing pounding beat you hear was achieved by not only Lantree’s drumming, but by band members stamping on the wooden stairs to Meek’s studio. The genius fixed five microphones to his banisters with bicycle clips, and someone beat a tambourine directly into a mic. What a brilliantly simple but effective recording.

The single was released in June by Pye Records. The label renamed the Sheratons as the Honeycombs, a pretty witty pun on their drummer’s nickname and previous occupation. It took a while to climb the charts, but eventually overtook Manfred Mann’s Do Wah Diddy Diddy and spent a fortnight at number 1 before being overtaken by the similarly groundbreaking You Really Got Me by the Kinks. Meek had done it again, but it was downhill all the way now.

Howard and Blaikley became managers of the Honeycombs and wrote their next two singles, but they couldn’t repeat their success. Their fourth single, Something Better Beginning, was by Ray Davies of the Kinks, but this too was a relative failure. By November Murray had left the group to be replaced by Peter Pye. Lantree sang on some later material, and when they performed the tracks live she was replaced on drums by Viv Prince from the Pretty Things. In April 1966 D’Ell, Ward and Pye all left the group, and a new version of the Honeycombs were formed, but they broke up in 1967. The 90s saw several different versions of the group touring the cabaret circuit. D’Ell succumbed to cancer in 2005, aged 62.

Howard and Blaikley would go on to become an acclaimed songwriting team, with a further number 1 under their belts, namely The Legend of Xanadu by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich in 1968.

Of course, Meek’s life ended in tragedy. The mental issues that had always troubled him worsened, and the legal battle for Telstar‘s royalties left him out of pocket. His preoccupation with the spirit world deepened. A closet homosexual, he was implicated by association in an awful crime. In January 1967 the remains of a 17-year-old Bernard Oliver were found in two suitcases. Meek became implicated in ‘the Suitcase Murder’. Rumours were he had either recorded for him or was a tape-stacker in Meek’s studio. The crime was never solved, and although apparently Meek was innocent, the fear of being questioned (police had stated they would interview every known homosexual in London) tipped him over the edge. On 2 February he burst into a friend’s house dressed entirely in black and claimed he was possessed. The following day was the 18th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, an incident that Meek was obsessed with. During an argument with his landlady, Meek became enraged, grabbed the shotgun he had confiscated from Tornados bassist Heinz Burt, and murdered her. He then turned the gun on himself. Three weeks later, the court ruled in favour of Joe Meek receiving the royalties to his biggest hit Telstar. He would have been financially saved.

UPDATE (1/1/19): Honey Lantree, real name Anne Coxall, died on 23 December 2018. She was 75.

Written by: Ken Howard & Alan Blaikley

Producer: Joe Meek

Weeks at number 1: 2 (27 August-9 September)

175. Manfred Mann – Do Wah Diddy Diddy (1964)

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On 13 August 1964, Peter Anthony Allen at Walton Prison, Liverpool and Gwynne Owen Evans at Strangeways Prison, Manchester were hanged for the murder of John Alan West on 7 April. They were the last executions to take place in the UK. Football TV programme Match of the Day began broadcasting on BBC Two on 22 August, making it the longest-running football show in the world.

The number 1 at the time of the executions was a suitably sombre affair befitting the occasion. Actually, no it wasn’t, It was Doo Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann. An unusual song by an unusual band. Manfred Mann was the keyboard player in Manfred Mann, but it wasn’t his name. Confused yet?

Mann’s real name was Manfred Lubowitz. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1940, the aspiring jazz pianist moved to the UK in 1961 and took the name Manfred Manne in tribute to the jazz drummer Shelley Manne. He soon dropped the ‘e’. In 1962 Mann met percussionist Mike Hugg at Butlin’s in Clacton, and they formed a house band that included Graham Bond. Mann and Hugg decided to form a new group known as the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, with the aim of combining jazz with the new R’n’B sound that was becoming popular. The line-up quickly grew, but they struggled to find a singer until they met Paul Jones. Jones, originally Paul Pond, had previously performed duets as ‘PP Jones’ with Elmo Lewis. Lewis was in fact Brian Jones. At one point Jones and Keith Richards had asked Jones to be the singer in a new group but he turned them down. By the end of 1962 the group was known as Manfred Mann & the Manfreds, and were a five-piece which also included Mike Vickers on guitar, saxophone and flute, and Dave Richmond on bass.

The quintet signed with EMI in March 1963 and were assigned to the His Master’s Voice label to work with producer John Burgess, who had produced Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960). Burgess thought they had potential but insisted they make their name snappier and despite Mann’s reluctance, they became Manfred Mann. The group’s first few singles didn’t chart, but their profile received a huge boost when they were asked to come up with a new theme tune for the ITV music series Ready, Steady, Go! The result, 5-4-3-2-1, rocketed up the charts to number five. Richmond left the band shortly afterwards to be replaced by Jones’ friend Tom McGuinness.

A few singles later, the band opted to cover married couple Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s Do-Wah-Diddy, which had been released in 1963 by US vocal group the Exciters. Together with Phil Spector, they had helped define the girl group sound of the early 1960s, and Do-Wah-Diddy was considered a sequel to Da Doo Ron Ron, which had been a huge success for the Crystals. Manfred Man opted to rename their version Do Wah Diddy Diddy, for some reason. It was an odd song choice for a jazz and R’n’B group, but one that paid off well.

Do Wah Diddy Diddy is a strange but memorable mix of bizarre lyrics, sung earnestly by Jones in his best bluesy voice, with an incredibly catchy tune that has stood it in good stead over the years. It suffers next to the recent batch of classic number 1s, but it’s better than some would say, mainly because the tune is one hell of an earworm. Never think the British public will deny a good song just because the lyrics are gibberish. Comedian Peter Kay certainly has a point about those opening lines though:

‘There she was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Snappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”

Taken literally, that’s a very strange image, isn’t it? Yet it’s taken as read that the song is simply about a guy who’s turned on by a girl on the street. Critics point out that Jones’ vocal is out of place in what is essentially a fun track, but I’d argue such passion makes it clear what he’s really singing about. So all in all, no classic, but I can see why it’s stood the test of time.

The success of Do Wah Diddy Diddy meant Manfred Mann moved further away from their original sound for their single releases, covering other girl groups for their 45s and tucking the jazz and R’n’B away on their albums. Two more number 1s would appear over the next few years.

Written by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 August)